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California legislative hearings on elder abuse in assisted living

DSS Director Will Lightbourne

On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, California legislators will hear testimony on failure of Community Care Licensing (CCL) to enforce regulations and protect residents in residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFE). The hearings follow on public outcry over CCL negligence in the closure of Valley Springs Manor in Castro Valley, California.

Most facility staff left Valley Springs Manor after CCL ordered the facility closed. However, CCL made no provision for moving residents to alternate locations. A licensing analyst knowingly left twelve residents in the care of a janitor and a cook. The Contra Costa Times followed the story and called for accountability.

Further impetus for the hearings came from coverage by the San Diego Union Tribune and the California Healthcare Foundation (CHCF) Center for Health Reporting.

The U-T and the CHCF Center for Health Reporting in September chronicled 27 deaths as a result of abuse or neglect. The series revealed regulatory weaknesses including a maximum fine of $150, even for violations resulting in death, and inspections that can take place every five years — less often than in other states.

This Examiner interviewed the director of Sunny Place of Stockton (San Joaquin County) after the facility was assessed a $150 civil penalty for the wrongful death of resident Maria Jordanou. The director said she did not appeal the citation because, “It was trivial.”

Many families say that CCL does not respond to their complaints. The Sacramento Bee covered disagreement over the number of complaints in the backlog.

Evon Lenerd, a state health department official whose branch oversees investigations into caregiver abuse, said the state has a backlog of about 700 complaints that are more than a year old.

But Patricia L. McGinnis, the executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said she had received private assurances from people within Lenerd's professional certification branch that there were nearly 10,000. McGinnis said the department has been "extraordinarily unresponsive and has a long history of noncompliance."

In June of 2012, this Examiner submitted a complaint with documented negligence and wrongful death of resident David Forbes at Wildwood Canyon Villa (San Bernardino County). Nearly two years later, CCL has yet to issue a report or cite the facility.

In February and March of 2013, this Examiner submitted an additional ten complaints against Wildwood Canyon Villa. Those complaints included documented allegations of:

  • neglect,
  • isolation,
  • physical restraint,
  • chemical restraint,
  • administration of medication without physician’s orders,
  • administration of medication by unlicensed staff,
  • possible sexual abuse,
  • and cover up of possible sexual abuse.

Nearly a year later, CCL has responded to only two of the ten complaints. There is no indication the other eight complaints were given case numbers or assigned for investigation.

In October 2013, this Examiner and Dr. Robert Fettgather submitted complaints of elder abuse at Villa Fontana (Santa Clara County) and Senior Paradise (Monterey County). Four months later, CCL has not responded.

The abused resident at Villa Fontana is now hospitalized. Abuse at Senior Paradise continues unabated. That resident is unlawfully isolated, and her condition is not known.

On February 11, 2014 two joint committees will convene to hear testimony on failings by Community Care Licensing. The Union Tribune provided details for Californians who wish to attend. Some limited time will be available for public comment.

After the September series in the U-T, Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Mateo promised to hold an oversight hearing of the Senate Human Services Committee, which he chairs. That hearing will be held jointly with the Assembly Human Services Committee from 9 a.m. to noon on Feb. 11 in Room 4203 of the State Capitol, 1301 10th St., Sacramento.

Two other Senate committees will also hold a joint hearing on the same subject in the same room at 1 p.m. that day — the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and the Health Committee.

Community Care Licensing is a division Department of Social Services (DSS). Director Will Lightbourne and his staff repeatedly opposed rights of residents in RCFEs. The Los Angeles Times reported:

William Lightbourne will make $343,000 annually in pay and benefits, making him one of the state's highest-paid bureaucrats. Officials defend the agreement, saying he has the necessary experience.

Readers may contact legislative committee members at the following email addresses.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Senator Leland Yee (D)

Senator Tom Berryhill (R)

Senator Noren Evans (D)

Senator Carol Liu (D)

Senator Roderick Wright (D)

Senator Mark Wyland (R)

Assembly Health and Human Services Committee

Mark Stone, Assembly Member (D)

Brian Mainenschein, Assembly Member (R)

Tom Ammiano, Assembly Member (D)

Ian Calderon, Assembly Member (D)

Christina Garcia, Assembly Member (D)

Shannon Grove, Assembly Member (D)

Isadora Hill, Assembly Member (D)

Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee

Senator Ted W. Lieu (Chair)

Senator Mark Wyland (Vice Chair)

Senator Tom Berryhill

Senator Marty Block

Senator Ellen M. Corbett

Senator Cathleen Galgiani

Senator Ed Hernandez

Senator Jerry Hill

Senator Alex Padilla

Senator Leland Y. Yee

Senate Health Committee

Senator Ed Hernandez (Chair)

Senator Joel Anderson (Vice Chair)

Senator Jim Beall

Senator Noreen Evans

Senator Kevin de León

Senator Mark DeSaulnier

Senator Bill Monning

Senator Jim Nielsen

Senator Lois Wolk

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